5 medicinal mushrooms that can power up your health and immunity
Traditional Chinese Medicine has long recognised the potential healing ability of some mushrooms. So which ones contain the best health-boosting magic?
Believed to have a diverse range of health benefits – from strengthening our immune system and having beneficial effects on diabetes, high cholesterol, high blood pressure and some cancers – medicinal mushrooms pack a powerful nutritional punch.
“Every healthy mushroom is good for us because it is full of antioxidants and plant chemicals,” says pharmacist and herbalist Gerald Quigley.
“Even the common button mushroom can help improve immune function, but some species have now been specifically researched to show all sorts of medicinal benefits.”
Usually taken as supplements, either tablets or powders, which medicinal mushrooms might be worth adding to your diet?
Japanese, Chinese and Korean medicine have used shiitake mushrooms for thousands of years and some studies suggest their properties may help those with cancer.
“There is evidence that shiitake helps reduce the risk of cancer and can also support the body after medical interventions, such as chemotherapy,” says naturopath Mim Beim.
Shiitake contains a beta-glucan, which stimulates our immune system.
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Unusually, this medicinal mushroom is actually a combination of a fungus and a caterpillar, and Chinese and Tibetan healers have used it as a tonic to boost energy, stamina, libido and to improve sleep.
“It can be used as a kidney or lung tonic,” explains Gerald.
“Athletes may use it to improve their performance and it can help respiratory function, too. If you experience asthma in winter months, it may be helpful.”
Sometimes called the “king of mushrooms”, chaga is believed to strengthen immunity and may reduce inflammation.
It grows on birch trees in colder northern European climates.
Chaga has a slightly bitter, earthy taste and is traditionally brewed as a tea, or it can be taken in capsule or tablet form, says Mim.
Some studies have found chaga’s antioxidant effects can reduce damage to cells by as much as 40 per cent.
“Reishi has been used for at least 2000 years in Chinese medicine,” says Gerald.
“The Chinese call it the ‘mushroom of immortality’ because it enhances the immune system, improves sleep patterns and is a good all-year-round supplement.”
Reishi powder can be added to smoothies or you can drink it as a tea.
Like most medicinal mushrooms, reishi is high in antioxidants that are particularly good for a healthy immune system.
Research shows Lion’s Mane mushroom may be especially good to improve and maintain healthy nerve and brain function.
“So, it may be beneficial to help improve focus, memory and concentration,” explains Gerald.
Most often taken as a supplement, this mushroom is also good for reducing inflammation and boosting immune health.
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Important: Get expert advice on medicinal mushrooms
Before trying medicinal mushrooms, speak to a health practitioner, like a naturopath or pharmacist, to find out what would be most helpful and to check they won’t interfere with any medications you are taking, or any pre-existing medical condition.
More natural immunity boosters:
- The best herbs to keep your immunity in top shape
- 5 ways to boost your child’s immunity
- The benefits of Vitamin C
- The best virus-fighting strategies to adopt in winter
Written by Sarah Marinos.